In late January, I packed two bags and crossed the equator for the first time. As only one of two people from my home university studying in New Zealand, and the only one to attend the University of Otago, I was quite nervous that I would be alone.
Flatting with strangers
I chose to enrol at the University of Otago through a study abroad provider, which I highly recommend. If you don’t mind spending a little extra, study abroad providers facilitate your enrolment into the university and arrange your housing—I found the convenience well worth the extra cost.
At the University of Otago, I was in University Flats – a set of university-owned and operated flats, which was largely occupied by international students like myself. As someone who had always lived in dorm rooms in university, I loved flatting.
I didn’t always like my flatmates – 4 other American girls and 1 “Kiwi Host” – but we functioned well together. Each week, we contributed NZD$30 to our flat debit card, and we each cooked one dinner for the week using this money. This fund also covered necessary groceries such as bread, eggs and milk. We also had a "chore wheel" to divide and rotate chores like sweeping, vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms. We probably had the cleanest student flat in all of Dunedin and we saved a lot of money and time by sharing dinners.
Socialising and Travelling
This is probably just my style of friendship, but I would recommend not always hanging out with the same friend group for the duration of the semester. By branching out, I think I met more Kiwis than most of my friends in my study abroad program and got to visit some really stunning places that I probably wouldn’t have been able to check out otherwise.
I do have to admit, part of the reason I didn’t stick with the same friend group was because of transportation. If you don’t mind driving on the left side of the road, having a car in the South Island is almost essential because of how distant some of the best views can be. It is possible to take a bus to some places, but you won’t be able to get to the more remote parks easily. It’s also much more convenient to be on your own schedule, as opposed to the bus schedule.
If you don’t want to drive I'd recommend making the right kinds of friends (i.e. the ones with cars) like I did. This will make it possible to travel through NZ—as long as you’re a good passenger who provides good banter and money for petrol!